News 3 commentsupdate:Mar 9, 2016

Study suggests chickens are smarter than toddlers

Newly-hatched chickens are capable of skills that it can take human babies months or even years to master, new research has revealed.

The research, undertaken by the University of Bristol, found that chickens had an instinctive physical awareness from hatching. They can keep track of objects that fall out of sight - a skill human babies do not pick up until about 12 months of age - and have an innate preference to objects "that they know make sense".

They can also exercise greater self-control - a classic test of intelligence - choosing to turn down one reward if there is the prospect of receiving a better one. Chickens are also born with the ability to keep track of numbers up to five, unlike humans, who have to be taught to count, the report says.

Christine Nicol, professor of animal welfare at the University of Bristol, co-authored the review with Robbie L'Anson-Price.

Nicol said it was important for people to recognise there was more to poultry than meets the eye, as well as "the importance of providing these amazing creatures with the environment that enables them to live out their natural instincts. Despite their familiarity, few people think of domesticated chickens as intelligent birds".

A spokesman for the Happy Egg Co, who sponsered the study said the findings of the report, entitled The Intelligent Hen Study, would inform range and enrichments' design on its farms.

World Poultry


  • KD Davis

    I have lived with chickens since 1985 when I rescued a crippled hen I named Viva from the chicken industry on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Chickens are very intelligent, social and emotional birds, very alert to and aware of their surroundings. If they weren't, they would not have thrived in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia for tens of thousands of years nor could they adapt intelligently to environments that differ from those in which they evolved, yet in fact, they do.

    At the same time, the cognition of a mentally intact adult member of one species is not meaningfully compared to that of an incompetent member of another species, in this case a human toddler who, by virtue of being a toddler, is cognitively undeveloped and could not even begin to meet the complex cognitive demands of adult birds, with families to raise, food to find, predators to evade, and societies to organize and maintain in complex natural environments.

    My essay The Social Life of Chickens, based on many years of direct personal engagement with roosters and hens, can be read on our website under Thinking Like a Chicken at <>. I have read and written extensively about chickens.

    Karen Davis, PhD, President
    United Poultry Concerns

  • EB Bernardi

    Haha! I have a lot of respect for Dr Nicol's work, but frankly, here they are comparing altricious newborns (babies) with precocious newborns (chickens). On the same way, you could say that baby hares are more intelligent than baby rabbits. But it is a false syllogism. If the ultimate objective is to convince the world to 'free' all these brilliant chickens so they can do accountancy work at the farm, it fails majestically.

  • EB Bernardi


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